Rice up against genetic engineering and climate change

Feature story - September 2, 2009
Today we're celebrating Southeast Asia's rich heritage of rice cultivation with a giant organic art work -- and reminding governments to protect our most important food crop from the threats of genetic engineering and climate change.

Aerial view of Rice art at Ratchaburi, Thailand.

The 'Rice Art' occupies an area of 16,000 square metres and depicts farmers wearing straw hats and using sickles to harvest rice - reflecting the traditions and way of life of rice farmers. We planted our work of art in Thailand's Central Plains - an area recognised as one of Southeast Asia's most fertile rice producing regions -- with two colours of organic rice.  One is an irrigated local rice variety which appears green from above, and the second is a traditional black rice variety.

Rice is life

Rice is inextricably linked with the culture and way of life of people in Southeast Asia.  the region's rich rice heritage must be protected through sustainable rice farming.  The best way to do this is to safeguard our rice against risky 'technologies' like genetic engineering, and invest in productive and ecological farming methods that are not dependent on harmful chemical inputs.

Governments in Southeast Asia should issue an outright ban on GE (genetically engineered) crops, particularly GE rice. GE crops threaten farmers' livelihoods and pose irreversible risks to the environment. Because the corporate backers of GE rice encourage monoculture plantations which reduce diversity,  GE crops add to the risks to worldwide rice production posed by global warming.   

Rice is the most important food crop in Southeast Asia - accounting for around 25 percent of the total world rice production in 2008. But rice production in countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand faces threats from profit-driven bio-tech corporations.

Farming in the face of climate change

Southeast Asia is the world's leading agricultural producer - but at the same time it is incredibly vulnerable to disasters caused by climate change. An Asian Development Bank (ADB) study released last April revealed that if global action is not taken, climate change will cause a serious decline in rice production in countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Climate change will profoundly affect agriculture worldwide. Food security in many countries is under threat from unpredictable changes in rainfall and more frequent extreme weather. Seventy percent of the world's extreme poverty is found in agricultural areas where farmers depend on rain for their harvests - where too much or too little rain spells disaster. Governments need to recognise that agriculture is particularly vulnerable to climate change and they must ensure adaptation strategies are based on sustainable agricultural techniques.

In our report "Food Security and Climate Change" we review recent scientific studies that underline the most effective strategy to adapt agriculture to climate change - increasing agricultural biodiversity. A mix of different crops and varieties in one field is a proven and highly reliable farming method to increase resilience to erratic weather changes. And, the best ways to increase stress tolerance in single varieties are modern breeding technologies that do not entail genetic tampering.

In addition to safeguarding agriculture against climate change - it is essential to recognise  that agriculture itself is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Our 'Cool Farming' report details the destructive practices resulting from industrial agriculture and presents workable solutions to help reduce its contribution to climate change. These practical changes will benefit the environment as well as farmers and consumers throughout the world without the use of dangerous genetically engineered crops.

We are campaigning for GE-free crop and food production grounded on the principles of sustainability, protection of biodiversity, and providing all people access to safe and nutritious food. Genetic engineering is an unnecessary and unwanted technology that contaminates the environment, threatens biodiversity and may pose risks to our health.

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